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Major Deep-Sea Smokers Found—"Evolution in Overdrive"

Teeming with strange animals, volcanic vent field is North Atlantic first.

Volcanically heated fluid rises from a deep-sea "smoker" seen at the newfound site this summer.
Photograph courtesy Provision/Marine Institute

Brian Handwerk
Published August 8, 2011
Deep under the North Atlantic, scientists have discovered a rare system of smoking volcanic vents and three-story "chimneys," according to scientists aboard the research vessel Celtic Explorer.
A hotbed of "evolution in overdrive," the site teems with strange animals that have been living there "perhaps for a millennium," said marine biologist Jon Copley. "And we're the first to see this place."
The vent field lies along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an undersea mountain range extending the length of the Atlantic that's created by the slow separation oftectonic plates.
The first hydrothermal vent zone to be explored on the ridge north of the Azores (map), the smoker site lies some 9,850 feet (3,000 meters) underwater, said expedition leader Andy Wheeler. (Read the deep-sea vent expedition blog.)
"It exists at the bottom of this steep, 650-foot [200-meter] fault escarpment." The teams remotely operated vehicle (ROV) "descended down the side of this cliff—and the side of the cliff was coated in bacterial slime—until we could see plumes of smoke coming up from below, and we found the chimneys reaching up," added Wheeler, a geologist at Ireland's University College, Cork.
Deep-sea chimneys are created when volcanically heated water carries metal sulfides up from below the seafloor. As the minerals pile up, the knobby towers take form
Read the rest of the National Geographic article HERE.

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